ELIZABETH, NJ -- An amended shared services agreement with the Union County Improvement Authority and a use-and-maintenance agreement with Union County College (UCC), both having to do with the Oak Ridge Park Project, were unanimously approved by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders on Thursday.
According to Freeholder Chairman Bruce Bergen, the agreements would further county efforts to provide a field, locker room facilities and “other amenities” for UCC sports teams that have outgrown their current facilities adjacent to the Cranford campus of the college.
Oak Ridge Park in Clark is a former county golf course that is being converted to a number of other uses.
However, Garwood activist Bruce Paterson wanted to know why the college could not use facilities authorized two years ago at Rahway Park, on which, he said, the county and Rahway spent $5 or $6 million. Another project that the county is supporting -- the proposed Mind and Body Complex in Roselle -- drew the ire of Roselle resident Anthony Esposito at the meeting.
Esposito, a 36-year resident of the borough, noted that the county has pledged to guarantee bonds to help pay for the complex. He reported that the average property tax bill in Roselle is $9,531, whereas the median income in the borough is only $44,375, adding that having residents pay 25 percent of their median income for taxes was “crushing the town.”
Esposito noted that there are 450 abandoned homes in the borough and 1,500 homes are in “some type of foreclosure.” He also said that the borough’s net municipal debt is $36 million and its debt cap only is $46 million. Thus, the borough, which is borrowing $5 to $10 million per year, cannot bond the Mind and Body Complex itself. Roselle has asked the county to pledge its guarantee on bonds on the facility, with the borough leasing it back from the county.
Paterson asked the freeholders to stop “sitting on $46 million in surplus” and allot $100 of each of it as relief to each county homeowner, which would only total about $18 million.
Esposito also said that he could not see how the current Roselle Borough Council could bind future councils to a future bond agreement and lease of the proposed facility, and, if future governing bodies decided not to uphold the borough’s lease agreement, other communities in Union County, “could be left holding the bag.”
This recreation center, Esposito added, would only be six blocks from Warinanco Park, where the county just spent $7 million to renovate and upgrade the park’s sports complex.
However, lack of sports facilities and playing time for youth soccer leagues in Rahway was the focus of Robert Macaluso, an official with that city’s youth soccer leagues. He said that there is not enough playing time for his teams to play at Rahway River Park and that the Madison Avenue Park they have been told to use is so prone to flooding that many referees will not allow games to be played there. He asked why a turf field could not be installed at the Madison Avenue Park.
The Rahway soccer official added his teams only want use of Rahway River Park facilities for 10 Sundays in the spring and 10 Sundays in the fall. He also said preference for use of the park is given to the “Colonia Soccer League,” which is not based in Union County.
However, Union County Director of Parks and Recreation Ronald Zuber responded that the “Colonial Soccer League” to which Zuber was referring was based in Elizabeth and most of its members were from that city.
Zuber added that the Rahway River Park facilities are shared with many other groups, including a women’s rugby team, and he and his department have been working with Macaluso to improve facilities and access to Rahway groups.
On a more positive note, Freeholder Alexander Mirabella, Freeholder Vice Chairman Sergio Granados and Bergen presented a resolution to Edward Chrystal, who grew up in Springfield and now lives in Scotch Plains, for his promotion to brigadier general of the New Jersey National Guard.
Freeholder resolutions also were presented:
- Congratulating Marilyn Davis, who served in the administrations of former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and former President Barack Obama, for receiving the Barbara Boggs Sigmund Award from the Women’s Political Caucus of New Jersey.
- Wishing Ellen Dotto well on her retirement as secretary of the boards and executive director of college relations for Union County College.
- Honoring Pat Scott, a former employee in the Cornerstone Unit of Runnells Hospital on her retirement from service to the county.
The board also adopted a resolution supporting former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “We Are Still In” effort by more than 1,200 officials around the U.S. supporting the Paris accords on climate change and condemning President Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement and the harm the group believes it will cause to the world’s environment.
Additionally, they voted in favor of a resolution condemning the American Health Care Act and urging U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker to continue their opposition to the proposal and its harm to Medicaid recipients.
According to Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski, under the proposal at it now stands, 14 million people would lose their healthcare benefits under Medicaid.